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Devil's Brigade, The



Devil's Brigade, The (1968)

Alex North 

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Unexpectedly Terrific!
John Robinson (January 29, 2008)
In the beginning, I couldn't recall much of this soundtrack after seeing the movie many years ago and I remember only a few moments of charm from the film itself. Although based on the true story of the formation of what would prove to be the first special forces unit, when it comes down to it, the movie was somehow largely forgettable to me - inspite of its more interesting origins - but, of course, a strict retelling of history was perhaps not this movie's main thrust - a more entertaining and hopefully moving one was, I suspect. But, I recently sampled from the Intrada CD (limited to 2000) the brief musical excerts available on SAE's website and was intrigued - though for me it was not enough sample time to remove all doubt. But, I took a chance on it, largely on the strength of the composer, of whom I'm well aware and admire a great deal (Spartacus, Cleopatra, Bite The Bullet, Cheyenne Autumn, Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, The Agony And The Ecstacy, Viva Zapata! and The Shoes Of The Fisherman I already own and wouldn't trade for anything). However, I must point out here that it helps tremendously that this edition contains the COMPLETE multi-track recordings, as I was surprised to discover for myself just how much of a 'slice-'n'-dice' job was done by the production company for the final film - NO WONDER the soundtrack seemed so forgettable to me on the DVD! Needless to say, all my initial suspicions as to its possible lack of musical integrity, as I listened, consistently gave way to whole-hearted enthusiasm. In the end I was totally converted! Rare and unusual instrumentations, virtuoso playing, full-of-life compositions and signature Alex North offerings; skillfully effective and simple melodic ideas coupled with the fact, that - as has long ago been pointed out by others and is well familiar to North fans - wherver he was invited onto a Hollywood project, the intelligence factor of the film was surely wratcheted up several notches as a direct result. But, seemingly in opposition to North's more familiar, large-scale projects with his own, well-celebrated emphasis on the intellectual (grounded by powerful emotions), here he works - every bit as diligently and with no less talent - to seamlessly craft an atmoshphere of sheer spontaneity. You're bound to enjoy the way he draws from his nearly 100-player 'ensemble' to take his main melodic idea for such a ride as he does here - endlessy reinventing the variations. He also keeps the spirited, comraderie-based humor of the soldiers skillfully interwoven and neatly in play while continuously, and very effectively, underscoring their combat-oriented concerns, stopping finally to recognize war's cost - all of which ingeniously illuminates the heart, mind and spirit of the men on screen. The original recordings themselves are in astonishingly good condition for the release of this CD - ESPECIALLY considering they are now over 40 years old - again, a night-and-day difference from what I remember of the DVD. Furthermore, included in the extra materials are 4 jazz standards, recorded for the film and supervised by North, that offer faultless Benny Golson arrangements of what were, according to the liner notes, some of the finest session players then in LA - and, of course, it sounds l ike it! This CD not only satisfied my curiosity, but, totally renewed my appreciation of a favorite composer, something I almost didn't think was possible at my current stage of collecting his scores, and, something I previously felt I didn't have a right to expect, based on the film. Having been finally and properly restored, I suspect it is already well on its way to being rightfully recognized as something of a major effort from what was the inestimable talent of Alex North. Unreservedly recommended!

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